In a crucial policy change, India has recently acknowledged that it has entered into backchannel communications with the Taliban in Afghanistan.
In early June, Indian media reported that New Delhi had begun talks with certain factions and leaders of the armed group in the framework of the withdrawal of U.S. forces from Afghanistan. A few days later, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of India confirmed all these reports, stating that “we are in contact with various actors … in view of our long-term commitment towards the development and reconstruction of the ‘Afghanistan’.
Quetta-based Taliban leaders and Qatari officials have also confirmed these backchannel meetings.
Until recently, India was reluctant to communicate openly with the Taliban because it feared that such a move could damage its relations with the Afghan government and its powerful regional and global support. While Indian intelligence officials have occasionally connected with Taliban fighters to protect India’s interests over the years, particularly in 2011 to ensure the release of abducted Indian engineers and personnel. working in Afghanistan, New Delhi has always refrained from establishing a permanent channel of communication with the group.
He viewed the Taliban as just a proxy for his main regional rival, Pakistan, and believed he had little to gain from directly engaging the group. On the other hand, New Delhi did not want to compromise its official policy of not speaking to any “militant group” by entering into a dialogue with the Taliban, as it believed that by doing so it was under increasing pressure to start talking to the groups. rebellious cashmere as well.
But a lot has changed in recent years.
In 2015, Iran and Russia began supporting the Taliban to prevent another armed group, the Islamic State of Khorasan (ISK), from extending its influence over Afghanistan. Knowing the limitations of the Afghan security forces and the Taliban’s operational force, they chose to form a working relationship with the Taliban to contain the ISK.
Since then, the Taliban have also established themselves as a legitimate player in Afghanistan by gradually strengthening their diplomatic relations with the international community, gaining significant territorial gains against the Afghan government, and signing a historic peace agreement with the Afghans. United States in February 2020. It is now widely accepted that the Taliban will continue to have significant influence over Afghanistan after the United States completes its withdrawal from the country in September 2021.
All this put India in a difficult position and forced it to rethink its approach to the armed group. In the end, it decided to form backchannel communications with relatively friendly factions of the Taliban to avoid losing strategic space to its regional rivals, particularly Pakistan, following the retreat of the United States from Afghanistan.
In September 2020, the Minister of Foreign Affairs of India, S Jaishankar, signaled his country’s interest in entering into a dialogue with the Taliban for the first time by participating in the intra-Afghan peace talks that they are held in Doha via a video link. An elderly Indian delegation also participated in the discussions. This was the first time that senior Indian officials attended an event in their official capacity alongside Taliban representatives. Since then, Indian security officials have begun to open channels of communication with various Taliban factions that are perceived as “nationalist” or outside the sphere of influence of Pakistan and Iran.
India has a lot to gain from these backchannel communications. New Delhi wants to protect its security interests and its investments in Afghanistan after the US leaves the country. In particular, it wants to ensure that Kashmir-focused armed groups such as Lashkar-e-Taiba and Jaish-e-Muhammad (JeM) do not use Afghanistan as a deployment ground to launch attacks in Kashmir administered by the United States. ‘India. Having a backchannel with the Taliban can help Indian authorities ensure that Afghanistan does not become a major security threat to New Delhi in the years to come.
The Taliban can also earn a lot from a backchannel with India. The group will need significant help outside the United States to leave Afghanistan to achieve its development and reconstruction goals. India can provide this help in exchange for security guarantees.
India’s awareness of the Taliban may also positively influence the ongoing peace process in Afghanistan by minimizing the possibility of an India-Pakistan proxy war in post-US Afghanistan. If India succeeds in establishing an informal bilateral relationship with the Taliban, Afghanistan may stand out from all fighting between India and Pakistan in the future and instead focus on its domestic problems and its struggles. .
But the success of India’s backchannel communications with the Taliban will depend, at least in part, on Pakistan’s response. At best, Islamabad will choose to remain neutral, neither encouraging nor discouraging such contacts. At the same time, it will move to lateral elements in the Taliban known to speak to India and discourage the armed group from communicating with New Delhi.
While the Pakistani opposition will no doubt impede the dialogue between the Taliban and India, it will not necessarily end it.
The Taliban have remained neutral in the face of India-Pakistan tensions over the revocation of Kashmir’s semi-autonomous status in August 2019, demonstrating that it wants to form a foreign policy independent of Pakistan.
While it is undoubtedly still heavily dependent on Pakistan, its recent territorial gains against the Afghan government, growing financial independence and newly formed diplomatic ties with other influential members of the international community, have given the Taliban some level of independence. It is now positioned to become a political power accepted by the international community and is slowly escaping from the capture of Pakistan.
All this signals that the Taliban will continue to speak out in India despite the Pakistani protests. But only time will tell if this dialogue will succeed in bringing much-needed security and stability to the region.
The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial position of Al Jazeera.